Progressivism’s Counsel of Despair

By Tom Gilson Published on October 28, 2017

You’d think a movement called progressivism would be forward-looking, optimistic and hopeful. Not so. Today’s so-called progressives are anything but that. They’re a hopeless lot, calling forth a counsel of despair in response to our national ills.

One recent example: Professor Charles H. F. Davis III, writing for Inside Higher Ed, complaining about a proposed policy at the University of Wisconsin to enforce limits on disruptive and violent campus protests. This decision, Davis says, “reinforces institutionalized white supremacy — and other oppressive forms of systemic power — by criminalizing the self-advocacy undertaken by the most vulnerable populations in our nation’s colleges and universities.”

Students who protested Ben Shapiro’s recent visit to UW-Madison would have been punished under the new policy, he says, “despite the fact that their civil disobedience was in direct response to the racist rhetoric advanced by Shapiro.”

The problem, in his view, is that “many conservatives have obscured the right to free speech by calling for it to be expanded to include ‘right-leaning’ speakers (and their campus sponsors) who publicly advocate white nationalist and white supremacist agendas.”

Flailing and Failing

There are problems out there, that’s for sure. While I wouldn’t agree with a lot of what he’s saying, I know that minorities in America experience systemic oppression, and that this is wrong. Conservatives, especially whites such as myself, need to hear that and take it to heart.

I’m sure Dr. Davis wants to help. He’s a researcher and strategist at the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center, the sort of position you don’t take on if you don’t care. But he’s flailing. Badly. And failing even worse as a result. There is no good that can come out of encouraging rude, noisy, violent protests.

Giving Up On What’s Needed Most

One reason it will do no good is precisely because conservatives and majority-population Americans need to hear what minorities are experiencing, and we need to take it to heart. Which Dr. Davis has given up on. There’s nothing heart-oriented, nothing about listening, in what he recommends.

We need to take it to heart. But there’s nothing heart-oriented, nothing about listening, in what Davis recommends.

Instead there’s an open invitation to anger, raw and unmoderated, shouting down what it cannot stand to admit even exists, boiling over at times in violence — of which he certainly wouldn’t approve, yet he must recognize as inevitable, based on the “free speech rights” he recommends.

What You Get Instead

And what can he expect to receive in response? Better listening? No, he can only expect the very thing many readers are surely feeling right now as they read this: Outrage at his name-calling. Incredulity over his recommendations. Disbelief that he might have anything worthwhile to say. And a reinforced conviction that the whole oppressed-minority thing is made up to advance liberals’ agendas.

Is this the good that Dr. Davis wants to accomplish?

Seeking to Believe the Best

I’m sure there are progressives who love stoking anger for anger’s sake. The more they can goad conservatives into reacting, the happier they must be. I’d like to believe better of Dr. Davis than that, though. I’d like to think he’s really trying to improve things, not worsen them. Why, then, does he speak things that sound exactly like what a person would say to foment an atmosphere of anger?

The only answer that makes sense — if we’re believing the best of him, that is — is that as bad as his answer might be, still it’s the best he can think of.

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He sees a problem that he desperately wants to help solve. Maybe he can’t hope for any good ways to address it; so be it. He’ll address it anyway, even if through hopelessly impossible flailing. Better to offer an angry, divisive and ultimately self-defeating answer than none at all, for if he offered none at all, it would look like he didn’t care.

The Kind of Answer We Need Instead

So is there any better answer? Do conservatives have a better approach to offer than progressives? At this point our categories are no longer helpful. What we need is a return to the national temper formerly known as “liberalism,” which looks nothing at all like what goes under that name these days.

We need freedom of speech of the sort that persons afford to one another — and which the government does not infringe — because we actually think good can come out of listening to each other. And we need to expand our mutual listening to include topics like race, on which it may be painful to hear the other person speak.

But we won’t get there without caring about the other person. Which means we need an answer based in forgiveness, grace and love — the gospel-centered answer only Jesus gives.

An Answer With True Hope Attached

Some would call that a counsel of despair, too, starting with its (supposedly) unrealistic and sectarian belief in Jesus Christ. Humanly speaking they’re partly right, for real change would still take a miracle. But God has turned hearts before, and we can pray for Him to do it again.

Meanwhile, even if it was unrealistic, at least it would be unrealistic in the right direction. For if there’s any hope at all for our country’s healing, it isn’t in ruder, noisier, more violent and divisive protests. If there’s any hope, it isn’t in Dr. Davis’s “progressive” advice, for as well-intentioned though it might indeed be, it’s still a counsel of despair.

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  • Dean Bruckner

    Idol worshippers are mean people, because their idol is powerless to do anything. They are embarrassed and fearful when they realize that, and take matters into their own hands. They are mean, so what they do is mean.

    Where does this end? Progressives like this hateful man are idol worshippers and killers, through abortion, of tens of millions of human beings. They have no one to trust to put things right, so they hate and murder. It won’t take much for this man to double down on abortion and justify death camps for Christians and others who will not worship the idols of government and Progressivism.

    Progressivism poisons everything!

    • Wayne Cook

      Well commented, Dean!

  • Paul

    “many conservatives have obscured the right to free speech by calling for it to be expanded to include ‘right-leaning’ speakers (and their campus sponsors) who publicly advocate white nationalist and white supremacist agendas.”

    I never knew free speech only applied to those I agree with. But then I keep hearing Nancy Pelosi which disproves that theory.

  • jgmusgrove

    For Leftists, free speech and diversity and inclusion are only for those that think like themselves.

  • “I know that minorities in America experience systemic oppression, and that this is wrong.”

    I’m genuinely sorry to hear that the author, Tom Gilson, has given in to the Marxists and accepted their bizarre, fact-free interpretation of society.

    No, minorities do NOT experience systemic oppression. “Oppression” denotes an oppressor acting with specific intent; there is no such actor and no such intent. Talk of “systemic” oppression is an attempt to remove the personal touch from oppression, but that’s irrational, like dry water or married bachelors.

    What they’re really doing, Tom, is dismissing the sensible goal of a free society that all members ought to be legally free to do as they choose and to achieve as much as they can. They substitute for that a Utopian attempt to make all outcomes for all groups equal. Equality of opportunity is decent and holy. Equality of outcome is unjust and impossible. To attempt to achieve equality of outcomes is to play God, and results in all sorts of pathological distortions in society, as we have seen.

    It is the case that poor people have less money than middle class people, and that because of it they have to work harder to obtain things that money can obtain. It is the case that a larger percentage of blacks and Hispanics are poor than are whites. But it is not the case that “minorities experience systemic oppression.” Do not give in to the lies.

    • Phil, I think I’ve got good reason to believe what I wrote there. That doesn’t mean I agree with every claim that’s made in this category. It does mean that if a black man, a conservative Christian college professor friend of mine, tells me he’s been stopped for “driving while black,” I believe him. It means that if reputable Christian ministry leaders tell me it’s really hard for people to pull out of inner city poverty, and that some of it is for systemic reasons, I believe them.

      I think the word “oppression” can legitimately be used for systemic effects, not just intentional-agent effects. If not, then I request you tell me a better word to use in its place to describe these systemic realities.

      Some of the barriers minorities experience in this country are still systemic in nature. Not all of them, and certainly not all that the liberal left would claim — and I thnk the tenor of y entire article here shows I’m hardly giving in to liberal misdiagnoses — but definitely some of them.

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